Diaspora, Identity, and Religion: New Directions in Theory and Research

By Waltraud Kokot; Khachig Tölölyan et al. | Go to book overview

4

Why locality matters

Diaspora consciousness and sedentariness in the Armenian diaspora in Greece

Susanne Schwalgin


Introduction

On a November morning I visited Ruben, who was one of the key informants for my field research on the Armenian community in Thessaloniki, Greece. Ruben was an Armenian born in that city, in his mid-thirties, not yet married, and living together with his mother. He told me that he had decided to get married and to my surprise he asked my help in arranging a marriage. 1 He told me that he would prefer to marry an Armenian girl because, like most Armenians of the community, Ruben believed that Armenian identity could only be maintained and transmitted by marriage with an Armenian partner. Interethnic marriages, on the other hand, would eventually lead to a loss of identity and to the so-called 'white genocide': 'white genocide' is a popular term describing the threat of assimilation used in the dominant discourse of identity in Armenian diaspora communities all over the world. When we, together with his mother, started to discuss the pros and cons of the few potential wives living in Thessaloniki, I was surprised that ethnic origin was not the most important criterion for choosing a wife. Both of them rejected my proposal to look for a wife among the Armenians from the Republic of Armenia, who have migrated to Greece since Armenia's independence in 1991. If at all, only a bride from Istanbul would be acceptable, they felt, since the cultural differences would be comparatively small. Furthermore, Istanbul was geographically close and a part of their family originally came from Istanbul. Ruben told me that he would marry a Greek girl from Thessaloniki rather than a woman from Armenia. Intermarriage between Armenian partners from different countries of residence was generally seen as problematic. Ruben and his mother argued that the mentalities of Armenians were strongly influenced by the localities they called home. Ruben's mother summarized our discussion by using the Greek saying: '[It's better to have] shoes from your place, even if they are patched-up' (Papoutsia apo ton topo sou, as einai balomena).

At first glance this story confirms a well-known concept: diasporic identities are informed by multiple attachments of people to places created through often contradictory experiences, memories and imaginations (Malkki 1997:92). However, we should bear in mind that Ruben and his mother attached a higher value to the concrete experience of living locally in Greece than to the global aspect of the

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